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Young Ukrainian hockey players await Quebec government OK to attend English school

Ukraine Team Select’s Maksym Shtepa and Vermont Flames Academy’s Cuba Pavlik fight for a puck during game action, Friday, February 17, 2023 at Quebec’s international peewee tournament in Quebec City. A half-dozen boys from Ukraine who played in Quebec City's famed peewee hockey tournament are benched after returning to the province to attend high school this month.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

MONTREAL — A half-dozen boys from Ukraine who played this year in Quebec City's famed peewee hockey tournament have been sidelined since returning to the province earlier this month to attend high school.

The youngsters arrived in Quebec on Sept. 1 but so far have not been able to attend an English high school in the Quebec City area as planned because they don't have provincial Education Department authorization.

Sean Bérubé, a Quebec City businessman, helped arrange for the team of 11- and-12-year-old Ukrainian refugees to play in the annual Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament in February. Six of them had expressed a desire to stay in the province at the time but had to return home due to visa requirements.

With their parent's approval, they returned to take classes and play hockey at the city's English-language St. Patrick's High School. But under Quebec's language law they need special dispensation to attend school in English, and that process could only begin after they had arrived. In their case, they are eligible for English school because they will be in the province temporarily. 

"To start the whole school process, we needed to first have a study permit issued by Canadian immigration, and that's done at the airport," Bérubé said Thursday. 

After the Labour Day weekend, he went to St-Patrick's High School to register the boys, and all the documents were sent to the Education Department. "So it's at the office now and we're waiting for them to have their registration approved," he said.

The children were feted during the tournament earlier this year, playing before a sold-out crowd at the Videotron Centre and taking part in numerous activities, including attending a Montreal Canadiens practice and NHL game.

A group of volunteers formed a non-profit to help fund the boys' stay. But the delay in getting them in school has led to scheduling issues for their host families.

On Thursday, Bérubé took the boys to play hockey, then to have lunch and to shop, giving their host families a break. He has been renting ice time daily to keep them occupied, but he says it's imperative they start school soon. 

One saving grace is that the six — who will eventually play on the same high school squad — have each other.

"It's kinda boring to just sit home after practice where all the guys want to go to school faster because we want to meet new people, we want to study," said Maksym Shtepa, 13, one of the six boys. 

"(That's what) everyone wants."

Quebec's Education Department said in a statement it is managing a high volume of requests for access to English schooling and is working to respond quickly. It is currently processing the requests, which takes about 10 days.

"For these students' files that have been received and are complete, it is expected the analysis will be completed by Sept. 26," the department said.

Shtepa, who spent a year living in Romania and studying in a high school in that country, is hopeful to resume classes soon.

"We really want to study there," Shtepa said. "Our friends from St-Patrick's team, they are in school, they are waiting to go to lunch with us."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2023.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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